On the 10th of November, 1862, Mark Wood and Alfred Wilson arrived at Key West, Florida, on board the U. S. steamer Stars and Stripes, and reported themselves to Col. Morgan, commanding the post, as members of the 21st Ohio Volunteers: having been sent out by Gen. Mitchell nearly eight months previously, together with twenty others, on special service, to capture a train of cars and destroy the railroad bridges on the Georgia and Atlanta State Road.
At Key West they furnished the following remarkable narrative of daring deed and suffering, for publication in the Key West New Era.
On Monday, April 7th, 1862, we left our camp at Shelbyville, Tenn., and made for Manchester, Tenn. We had the utmost difficulty in avoiding our own pickets, and several of the party were near being shot. At Manchester, we represented ourselves as Kentuckians on our way to Chattanooga, to join the rebel army. After leaving Manchester, we arrived at a farm owned by a Col. Harris, who, upon being told that we desired to join the Confederates, showed us every attention, gave us lodging, and in the morning harnessed his teams and conveyed four of us to the Cumberland Mountains, and furnished us with letters and passes to friends in Chattanooga.
At this time, the party divided into squads of two and four, and started ahead of each other. All, however, told the same story, and had the same object in making their way to the Army lines. We crossed the mountains and followed the course of Battle Creek. During this journey, we frequently stopped at houses in which we found Union men, who endeavored to persuade us to turn back and join the Federal Army.
Occasionally, we were regaled at the farm-house of a secessionist and received every attention and encouragement.
After a journey of five days, with alternate meetings of secession friends and Union dissuaders, we arrived at Chattanooga, where we found eighteen of our party, the other two having previously arrived and gone on to Marietta, Ga.
At Col. Harris's we met a man who had just run the blockade and offered one of our party forty dollars to pilot him across the Cumberland Mountains. We, however, all refused, and expressed a determination to join the Confederate Army. This lulled all suspicion, and without delay or hindrance we took the cars for Marietta. Before leaving, however, Andrews, the chief of the party, divided among us seven hundred dollars of Confederate Scrip and told us that we were soon to enter upon our dangerous duty, but the first man that got drunk, or flinched in the least, he would shoot him dead on the spot; that our object must be accomplished, or we must leave our bones in Dixie.
He was a man of great determination and force of character, as subsequent events will show.
After a journey of about eighteen hours, we arrived at Marietta, Ga., and put up at a tavern.
The next morning before daylight we again took the cars and went back the same road to a place called Big Shanty, a refreshment saloon on the line of the Georgia and Atlanta State Road, where were encamped about 10,000 Confederate troops. It was the general rendezvous for recruits and the organization of regiments. The train contained a number of soldiers as well as citizens, together with a quantity of provisions, and an iron safe containing a large amount of Confederate scrip to pay the troops at Corinth, Miss., and here it was that we knew the duty we were expected to do, viz.: destroy the track and bridges on the line of the road, and thus prevent reinforcements and commissary stores from reaching Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. Gen. Mitchell had already cut off communication from Corinth by holding Huntsville, Ala., and our duty was to destroy the track and bridges from Big Shanty to and beyond Chattanooga, or as far as Bridgeport, Tenn. It must be recollected that this portion of the road is built over innumerable creeks and rivers, and crosses the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, where a fine bridge is erected.
As before stated, our whole party, consisting of twenty-two, left the cars, and divided into squads of three and four, taking stations on each side of the train--Andrews stationing himself at the coupling-pin of the third car. [It must here be stated that a number of our party were engineers, and thoroughly understood the business we had on hand.] One of our engineers was at his post, and found everything all right. All hands now mounted the cars, although the guard was within three feet of them, the word was given, Andrews drew the coupling-pin, and cried all right. The train, now consisting of three cars and the engine, was started off with as little noise as possible. We soon lost sight of the lights at Big Shanty, and at the first curve the train was stopped, and one of the party (John Scott) climbed the telegraph pole and cut the wires, we then started, and the next point, at a town, name unknown, we tore up the track, and took a rail with us on the car, and thus we continued tearing up the track and cutting the wires, on the other side, after passing a town.
Unfortunately, however, for us, the train was running in a very slow schedule, and we were compelled to switch off and let the down train pass us. At the first station this occurred, the engineer of the road made his appearance, and was about to step on the engine, when Andrews told him he could not come on board, as this was an extra train to run through to Corinth, and the present party were engaged to carry it there, and in support of the assertion the iron safe was shown. This apparently satisfied the engineer, and we took in wood and water, and again started. A second time we were compelled to switch off, and in order to get the switch keys, Andrews, who knew the road well, went into the station, and took them from the office. This caused considerable excitement, but we quieted it in a measure by stating that our train contained gunpowder for Beauregard at Corinth, and soon after we again started. About twenty miles south of Dalton, Ga., we came to a bridge, and here we set fire to one of our cars, piled on wood, and left it on the bridge, designing to set it on fire also. At this time, the engineer at the Rome Branch, suspecting. that all was not right, started up the track, and we suppose, found the rails torn up, and immediately returned to the junction, and took on board a quantity of loose rails, and followed after us. Where we had torn up the rails he immediately laid one, and without stopping to fasten it, started over slowly and gave chase. Soon he came to the bridge with the burning car, which had not yet caught the bridge. In the meantime we had switched off to let an express pass, which train was duly informed of our character by discovering the track torn up, and stopped, but was soon joined by the Rome engineer who had succeeded in turning the burning car off the bridge; they then started for us, laying the track as they went along, which they could do in a much shorter time than we could tear it up. Thus it was they overtook us at work, and as soon as we found ourselves discovered, speed was our hope and at it we went, but unfortunately for us our fuel was nearly out, and it was then determined to leave the engine, and take to the woods. Accordingly, we stopped and reversed her, intending she should run back upon our pursuers; but in this we failed, as she had not sufficient steam to turn her over, and our object had failed from a combination of unfortunate circumstances. Ten minutes more would have set the bridge on fire, and the Rome engineer, with the rails, could not have followed us, and the down express was entirely useless.
It was our intention to have destroyed all the bridges, run into Chattanooga, wait until the evening train passed, and then gone on to Bridgeport, destroyed the bridge over the Tennessee River, and then away for Huntsville, and join Gen. Mitchell.
Our troubles now commenced, and the greatest of all our disasters was the division of our party; 'twas now every man for himself. We started for the Tennessee River, but, being entirely unacquainted with the country, mistook our way, and after being hunted through the woods and twice fired at, made our escape. Our travels from this time were a succession of hardships and difficulties. We crossed the mountains, made the Tennessee River, where we found a small boat with which we made our way down the river to Stephenson, Ala.; here we found the entire rebel force in a complete state of confusion, occasioned, as we learned, by a visit from our cavalry which had made a dash into the town, captured a few prisoners, and left that morning. We had succeeded in passing through the town safely, when we suddenly came upon a force of rebel cavalry, commanded by Col. Stephenson, who took us prisoners just fourteen days after leaving the balance of our party. We were immediately recognized as belonging to Andrews's party, and after being confined one night in Stephenson, we were taken on the cars to Chattanooga and confined in jail, where we found the whole party. It was endeavored to make us give the name of the engineer, as they had a terrible fate in wait for him, but not one of the party would divulge his name. A Court-Martial was ordered for the trial of Andrews, and Pettinger, of the Second Ohio, was taken out as a witness, and by alternate offers of pardon and persecution they endeavored to make him testify against Andrews, but he was true to his word and companions, and the Court could gain nothing from him. Andrews and Pettinger were then sent back to us in jail, and we expected nothing less than the whole party would be hung. At this time, about May 10, Chattanooga was threatened by our forces, and, for safe keeping, we were run off to Madison, Ga. At Marietta, the cars were stopped by a mob who threatened to drag us from the cars and hang us to a tree, but the officer in charge of the train prevented them from carrying it into execution by placing a strong guard around the car, and the mob, after a great effort, was dispersed. We arrived in safety at Madison, where, after being kept in confinement three days, we were informed we were to be again taken to Chattanooga, as the Yankees did not intend to try to take that place. Accordingly we were again taken back to that place, where the whole party--twenty-two in number--were chained with heavy irons, and confined in a dark dungeon, thirteen feet square, and for six weeks were fed on half fare, of the most miserable quality. We were stripped of all in our pockets, and left without a cent. Again the Court-Martial was ordered, but this time at Knoxville, and twelve of our party were taken there, and confined in large iron cages. The Court found seven of them guilty of being spies and lurkers around the camps.
Our forces at this time advanced upon Cumberland Gap, and Knoxville was threatened, and in order that we might be safely kept, the whole party, including the ten at Chattanooga, were sent to Atlanta, Ga. Previous to leaving Chattanooga, Andrews's sentence was read to him, which was that he was to be hung in six days. It was then determined to attempt an escape by cutting through the jail, which was accomplished in one night, and just at daybreak Andrews twisted his blanket into the form of a rope, and succeeded in reaching the fence. John Whollam next followed, but was discovered. Andrews, in attempting to climb the jail-yard fence, was also seen and fired upon by the guard, but succeeded in getting over. Whollam also made a dash, and cleared the fence; both then took to the river, and for the time escaped. Three days afterward Andrews was captured and brought back, and seven days elapsed before poor Whollam was found. He had travelled eighty miles down the river, and was twice within hail of the Union gunboats, but was afraid to make himself known. As soon as those two had been brought back, Andrews was chained, hands and feet, and the irons riveted on, the shackles being of immense weight and sufficient to have held an ox. The whole party were then run off to Atlanta, Ga. On the 7th of June, Andrews was taken from the jail and hung, or rather, strangled to death, for the tree on which they hung him was so low that when his head touched the limb his toes touched the ground, and it was necessary to dig the sand away in order that he could be choked; his irons and shackles were still on him.
After remaining in jail about seven days, the Provost-Marshal came to our cell and took out the seven that were tried at Knoxville, viz.: Wilson, Ross, and P. G. Shaderick, 2d Ohio; Slaven and Robinson, 33d Ohio; John Scott,; 21st Ohio; and William Campbell, citizen, Louisville, Ky. These were taken from the cell into an adjoining room, and then sentence of death was read to them, and permission refused them to return to their comrades before execution, which took place in half an hour after leaving us.(1) They were hung with cotton ropes, and two of the party broke down, and were allowed to live about an hour, and see them put their comrades in coffins, after which they were again hung up, and their lifeless bodies passed our jail window in about half an hour. The balance of the party, expecting from day to day to be taken out and hung, still lingered on a most miserable existence for the space of four months. In October last, we were told that a Court-Martial was about to be convened to try us, and expecting neither justice nor mercy at their hands, it was resolved to attempt an escape. Accordingly, on the evening of the 15th of October, just as our jailer brought up our supper, we (together with a Capt. Fry, who was confined with us, known as the notorious Capt. Fry, spy and bridgeburner) rushed from our cell, took the keys and released four other prisoners, and in a body fell upon the guard and disarmed them. We then succeeded in scaling the fence, and took the shortest cut for the woods, distant about a mile.
By this time the guard and sentinels were after us, and as they began to fire upon us, our party scattered and ran, every man for himself. We two, however, kept together, and made good our escape. How many of the party were retaken or shot, it is impossible to say. Capt. Fry, after being repeatedly shot at, staggered and fell; it is therefore pretty certain that he was killed. We kept on, and after wandering in the woods for twenty-two days, occasionally coming within hearing of cavalry, and several times being nearly caught, subsisting upon corn and such things as we could forage, we reached the borders of the Chattahoochee River, and there found a boat with which we came down the stream, and after alternate rowing and drifting, subsisting on raw catfish and berries, we reached Columbus, Ga., but did not venture in the city, as we discovered a great many soldiers there. Again we started off, determined to reach the Gulf coast, being told by negroes that our blockading fleet were stationed there.
After a journey of eleven days, during which we suffered from hunger and thirst, with scarcely sufficient rags left of clothes to cover our bodies, our feet bruised and lacerated, we succeeded in reaching Apalachicola Bay, on the coast of Florida, and there, for the first time in eight months, beheld the Flag of the Free floating proudly from the peak of the United States steamer Somerset.
We were taken on board, and treated with the utmost kindness. Our rags were exchanged for complete outfits of sailor clothes; our wounds were dressed, and every attention paid us that could be desired. We then realized that we were once more among Union men. From the Somerset we were transferred to the United States steamer Stars and Stripes, in which vessel we arrived at Key West, Florida, on Monday, Nov. 10, and reported to Col. Morgan, of the Ninetieth New York Volunteers, nearly eight months from the time we left our regiment. In this statement we have omitted many interesting details, which would fill a newspaper entire. It is our intention to proceed to Washingington, and from thence join our regiment.(2) We desire to express, publicly, our heartfelt thanks to the many kind friends we have met since coming within the jurisdiction of the American flag, for the liberal and humane manner in which they have treated us. May that God who has thus far spared our lives protect and watch over them.
(1) A refugee from the State of Georgia, now in the city, who witnessed the execution, but from peculiar circumstances does not make his name public, corroborates this statement, and adds that these brave men were surrounded by some three or four hundred guerillas, and partisan rangers, as they called themselves, who disputed for the honor of being the executioners The matter was settled by the crowd taking a vote, when twelve of the party were selected as the favored ones. The rebel soldiers who perpetrated this outrageous murder, spent the remainder of the day in spreeing and jollification, many of them writing home to their friends an account of their pleasure in having assisted in the hanging of seven "blue bellies," as they termed the Union soldiers. NEW YORK, April 6, 1863.
(2)By reference to the Judge Advocate's report, it will be seen that these brave fellows' statement, who underwent hardship and privation exceeding that of their comrades, has not been included in the depositions. They were probably prevented from getting to Washington. But it is to be hoped they will present themselves, and receive the same attention and reward as their fellow soldiers.
Ohio boys in Dixie: the adventures of twenty-two scouts sent by Gen. O. M. Mitchell to destroy a railroad; with a narrative of their barbarous treatment by the Rebels and Judge Holt's report, New York: Miller & Mathews,1863
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